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[en] Sandra Cuffe – ‘For the Love of My Country’: Juan Gabriel Figueroa Tomé, another Martyr from the Resistance of Northern Honduras

Sector López Arellano, Choloma, Cortés, Honduras
August 9th, 2009.

by Sandra Cuffe

Juan Gabriel Figueroa Tomé was 30 years old, married, and had two small children. He worked as an employee of the Municipality of Choloma. Together with friends and work colleagues, he participated in the resistance marches and activities against the coup from June 28th itself until his murder in the wee hours before dawn on Saturday, August 8th.

The young worker’s cadaver was found with a bullet wound in the nape of his neck and another wound to his thorax in an area known as La Platanera in the Lopez Arellano Sector of Choloma, Cortés department, Honduras. According to the forensic doctor, Figueroa was murdered at approximately one thirty in the morning on Saturday. His death, however, turned up in the Sunday newspaper not as political news, but in the violent ‘Incidents’ section as but one more nameless statistic among so many other daily murders in the region.

Upon hearing the news of Figueroa’s death, many people walked under the relentless sun along the dirt streets of the López Arellano Sector to the wake at the home of Figueroa’s parents. Even before his body was released from the judicial morgue of San Pedro Sula on Sunday, relatives, friends, neighbours, colleagues, and resistance movement participants began arriving at the house to share the sorrow and express their solidarity with the grieving family.

Photos of Figueroa, smiling and full of life, hung on the walls.

Figueroa’s son was crying in his aunt’s arms, but when asked how old he was, he perked up enough to hold up four fingers on one hand before burying his face into his aunt’s shoulder.

Figueroa’s five-year-old daughter held out her hand in greeting and appeared ecstatic, as though people were filling the humble home for a party, instead of coming to bid farewell to her father, whose body rested in a coffin in the small living room.

“She says that her daddy is sleeping,” explained Figueroa’s mother, when asked what the children understood about the situation.

Between greetings and hugs from other women in the house where she raised her son, Figueroa’s mother spoke about how her son would sometimes go out with friends on weekend nights to set up a small vendor’s stand at soccer games and then have some fun before returning home on his friend’s motorcycle. Acquaintances had seen Figueroa close to midnight at a dance party, while others claimed to have seen him playing pool at around 12:30am in a local pool hall.

Known locally as an extremely dangerous area in the sector, the La Platanera is somewhat removed from the routes between the stadium, the dance party, the pool hall, and Figueroa’s house. His relatives confirmed that he never traveled through that area.

“They took him there because no one recognizes him there,” said Figueroa’s mother. “It wasn’t until later in the morning that someone who knew him passed by and came to tell us,” she explained.

Figueroa’s mother also explained that her son was not killed in the exact location where his body was found, but further down in that same area, where there was “a pool of blood,” she said. He was also found without his identification documents nor the yellow motorcycle he was riding the night of his murder.

The young Juan Gabriel Figueroa Tomé was the only member of his family to actively participate in the resistance movement against the coup. Sobbing, his mother expressed that everyone who knew him is asking why he was murdered, adding that he was a respectful worker who loved his family and his neighbours, and that he was not involved in any criminal or dubious activity.

The López Arellano sector is within the region with the highest murder rate in the country, in a sort of triangle between greater San Pedro Sula, Choloma, and El Progreso. This region with the greatest levels of violence, and also of femicide, coincides with the corredors of maquilas, factories, and tax-exempt Export Processing Zones (ZIPs), in which all kinds of clothing and other consumer goods are factory-made for export, mainly via the country’s principal port Cortés to the United States.

Despite Figueroa’s mother’s questioning of the motive of her son’s murder, one of his best friends asserted that many people have little doubt that Figueroa was killed because of his participation in the actions coordinated by the National Front in Resistance to the Coup, explaining that “since the 28th [of June] we have been there in the resistance – in San Pedro, in Choloma, in the marches, in everything we were there together.”

At two in the afternoon, a funeral mass was held in a local church that same Sunday, August 9th. There were not enough chairs for the throngs of people who attended, and thus many stood along the walls and even outside the church doors.

“Sometimes, we ask ourselves: Why the violence? Sometimes we ask ourselves why he was murdered in this way,” the priest preached.

“This murder was carried out to send a clear message to the people in this sector and in the northern region in general,” remarked a human rights activist and active participant in the resistance movement who attended the funeral in solidarity with Figueroa’s family.

“They are not killing well-known leaders from the Frente or organizations, but instead workers, farmers and teachers who are not well known but who have been actively participating in the resistance,” she explained. “Murdering individuals with whom ordinary people can identify is a clear counterinsurgency tactic to terrorize the population. Furthermore, because of the age of most of the martyrs, the murderers are demonstrating more and more clearly that they view the widespread participation of youth – the majority in this country – as a serious threat.”

Upon leaving the church after the funeral at around three in the afternoon, a friend of Figueroa’s approached with more news. Neighbours had reported that during the wake that same morning, armed men on a motorcycle had been driving back and forth along the street in front of the home of Figueroa, his wife, and their two small children.

Furthermore, Figueroa’s friend explained that neighbours of the area where Figueroa was murdered had already been talking about unknown men on two motorcycles chasing someone through the area at about one in the morning the same night of the murder. According to the second-hand testimonies, the man being chased stopped and shouted that his pursuers could take his motorcycle without a problem, because he would not resist.

“It’s not the chopper we want. It’s you we want,” said his pursuers, according to the neighbours’ testimonies.

“Around here, nobody sees anything – you know, out of fear,” clarified Figueroa’s friend, when asked about the description of the men and the motorcycles. “It may be that people tell of things they have heard during the night, but nobody sees anything…”

The wind blew through the dusty streets, bringing cool relief to the congregation of people getting ready for the funeral procession to Figueroa’s burial in a local cemetary. Many women were crying as they left the church, while the men seemed to attempt to distract themselves from the cries and hugs. As always, the smallest children played and laughed, bringing smiles to the faces of those watching them.

Sitting on the sidewalk outside the church, a local leader of an organization involved with the National Front in Resistance against the Coup in Honduras was talking to someone on his cell phone about the murder, about the ongoing death threats he himself received, and about the thousands of people participating in week-long resistance marches that were nearing the two main cities in the country. It became evident that he had been asked why he and so many thousands of people continued in resistance when they were being met with such strong repression by the de facto government.

“Well, first of all, because I love my country…”

# # #

This article was originally published in Spanish on August 9, 2009. At the request of Juan Gabriel Figueroa Tomé’s family, no photographs were taken. Similarly, out of consideration for both privacy and security, no person has been directly named except for Figueroa himself, considering that both his murder and his participation in the resistance to the coup are already public knowledge.

Sandra Cuffe is an independent journalist and photographer from Canada. She lived in Honduras from 2003 to 2007 and returned to the country on July 3, 2009. She is currently a contributing member of the Dominion (Canada), a contributor to Upside Down World (USA), a correspondent for Defensores En Linea (Honduras), and maintains a bilingual blog: http://HondurasSolidarity.wordpress.com

# # #


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[en] May I Speak Freely?: HONDURAS NEWS IN REVIEW: July 10 – Aug. 3, 2009

Police Violence in the central park of San Pedro Sula. August 3rd. Image from video taken by Alfredo Bogran.

Honduras News in Review—July 10-Aug. 3, 2009

1. Post-coup death toll rises
2. International human rights delegation observes “systematic violations of human rights”

3. Repression severe on Nicaraguan border as Zelaya supporters gather to meet exiled president
4. Protests in Tegucigalpa, other cities meet with violent police, military response
5. Human rights NGOs take action on behalf of detainees, at-risk citizens
6. U.S. State Dept. maintains guardedly pro-Zelaya stance
7. U.S. Congress divided on Honduras
8. Honduran Congress members “deliberately kept out of legislative session” that ousted Zelaya
9. Excerpt of July 21 letter from Manuel Zelaya to Barack Obama
10. Human rights ombudsman Ramón Custodio censured by international human rights advocates
11. San José Accord still on table, but conflicts loom large
12. Elite Honduran business interests flex behind-the-scenes power in de facto government
13. “Cuarta urna” proposals had raised hopes among Honduras’ marginalized communities
14. Kidnapped journalist found dead
15. Other news in brief

1. Post-coup death toll rises

On July 25, fellow Zelaya supporters found the body of 23-year-old Pedro Magdiel Muñoz Salvador, notably bruised and stabbed 46 times, near a roadblock in El Paraiso. Muñoz had been among the approximately 5,000 supporters heading to the Nicaraguan border to greet deposed president Manuel Zelaya as he attempted to cross into the country. According to independent journalist and MISF associate producer Oscar Estrada, who has been sending daily updates of events on the ground, Muñoz had been part of a small group that had most actively challenged a police blockade in El Paraiso—one of 15 set up between Tegucigalpa and the border with Nicaragua. Muñoz allegedly had been arrested the previous evening, a claim that police officials denied. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for an investigation into the murder, and urged the interim government to “adopt every measure to guarantee the right to life, integrity and security to all citizens of Honduras.”

The following day, Jorge Edgardo Cruz Sierra, 35, and Víctor Samuel Almendárez Fuentes, 12, were killed outside the National Stadium in Tegucigalpa after a soccer match. A third victim, Francisco Javier García Ortega, 45, died a few days later. Official reports attributed the deaths, along with at least five gunshot injuries, to a clash between rival fans that was subsequently subdued by police with tear gas and live ammunition. Some accounts said that the incident was provoked by gun-wielding fans who were waiting outside the stadium, as police had searched people on their way into the match. By contrast, Estrada suggested the police aggression was in response to crowd protests over the death of Muñoz and “the state of repression” in the country, not a soccer riot. According to Estrada, a block of fans had come into the game with a banner depicting Pedro Muñoz’s face; that section of the crowd was repeatedly skipped in the television coverage of the game, he noted. After what Estrada called “an extremely boring match,” which ended in a 0-0 tie, “the youth left protesting … yelling, ‘Murderers! Murderers!’” Television reports and a video posted to YouTube showed a police officer firing into the crowd. On July 29, Orlin Javier Cerrato Cruz, spokesperson for the Ministry of Security, allowed for the possibility that one of the deaths could have been at the hands of an officer. “We need to look at all the evidence to be able to ascertain whether [a police officer] is responsible.”

On July 29, a 38-year-old teacher, Roger Abrahán Vallejo, was shot in the head by police during a protest in northern Tegucigalpa. Witnesses said the shooting occurred as hundreds of police charged a crowd of protesters. Vallejo died in hospital three days later. Teachers present at the Hospital Escuela, where Vallejo was being treated, reported the presence of police and military forces at the health-care facility. According to Sergio Rivera, a member of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Honduras, police “forced their way into the wounded leader’s room … to intimidate his companions.” Police officials said were opening an investigation to determine whether the shot that killed Vallejo was fired by a police officer.

The first death directly tied to events related to the coup occurred on July 5, when Isis Obed Murillo, 19, was shot and killed when police fired into a crowd of Zelaya supporters awaiting the ousted president’s arrival at the Tegucigalpa airport. Since then, several other killings have been reported, although reports have varied and it is unclear whether all are related to post-coup events. Nevertheless, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has noted and requested clarifying information regarding the following six alleged murders (in addition to Muñoz): the death of journalist Gabriel Fino Noriega, Radio América correspondent in San Juan Puebla, Atlántida, killed on July 3 as he left the Radio América offices; the discovery of a body in “La Montañita” with apparent signs of torture and a T-shirt supporting the Zelaya administration’s “cuarta urna” proposal; the discovery of two bodies in a barrel in Tegucigalpa, with money and cell phones still intact, and their arms bound with shoelaces; the July 11 murder of popular leader Roger Bados, in San Pedro Sula; and the July 12 murder of popular leader Ramón García, in Santa Bárbara. [AP, 7/25/09; Oscar Estrada report, 7/27/09; EFE, 7/28/09; La Tribuna, 7/29/09; El Tiempo, 7/29/09; IACHR press release, 7/27/09; La Tribuna, 7/27/09; HablaHonduras, 7/31/09; AFP, 8/2/09; La Jornada (Mexico), 8/2/09]

2. International human rights delegation observes “systematic violations of human rights”

A fact-finding team of 17 representatives from European and Latin American human rights organizations visited Honduras to observe the human rights situation first hand, releasing on July 23 a preliminary report of their findings. The Observation Mission on the Human Rights Situation in Honduras said it verified many reports of abuses earlier in the month, including at least six extrajudicial killings and two confirmed disappearances. There were a number of other murders that they did not have the time to verify, according to an AlterNet reporter writing from inside the country, who was told by a member of the mission that if they had “stayed longer, the numbers of political murders would be higher.” The mission’s report also verified and documented many reported instances of press repression (see MISF 7/28 report) and also noted a credible report of paramilitary organizations, supposedly with drug trafficking connections, dressed in camouflage and acting in conjunction with the 15th Battalion of the Honduran Army in the Colón region. A final report from the mission is expected soon. On July 30, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), one of the participating organizations, issued a statement of concern over the human rights situation in Honduras, urging that the international community continue to condemn the coup, that the European Union suspend economic cooperation with Honduras, and that the U.N. high commissioner conduct a field visit to the country, among other things. [International Observation Mission preliminary report, 7/23/09; AlterNet, 7/28/09; FIDH, 7/30/09]

3. Repression severe on Nicaraguan border as Zelaya supporters gather to meet exiled president

A group of observers from the United Nations arrived at the Honduran border with Nicaragua on July 27, where supporters of Zelaya had been congregating since July 24 to greet the deposed president, who had promised to cross the border there over the weekend. The delegation, strictly there to document human rights conditions, reported shortages of water and food for the inhabitants in areas affected by the round-the-clock curfew, which covered approximately one third of the country and ultimately lasted five days. They received reports of a Red Cross vehicle that was trying to make it through to an encampment of protesters with basic provisions, which was denied passage by a military roadblock.

Movement to the southern border was impeded by as many as 15 military roadblocks, which stopped the busloads of supporters, forcing them to walk. Independent journalist and MISF associate producer Oscar Estrada witnessed first-hand many of the events at the border, and reported that throngs of supporters joined Zelaya, despite being deprived of transportation. Via Ciudadana, an international campesino rights organization, reported that marchers were variously tear-gassed and shot at, resulting in at least three injuries. On July 25, news broke that Via Ciudadana leader Rafael Alegría had been arrested. Estrada and the group of reporters with whom he was traveling were able to locate Alegría, along with roughly 150 peaceful protesters, in the local jail. With the help of Juan Almendares, director of the Center for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and their Families, Estrada and the reporters were able to secure Alegría’s release, as well as those of the women being held, who had complained of sexual harassment as well as threats of sexual abuse. The same day, popular leaders Bertha Cáceres and Salvador Zúniga, of Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations (COPINH), and Miriam Miranda, of the Garifuna organization OFRANEH, were also detained but subsequently released.

A report from women’s group Feministas en Resistencia substantiates a claim that at least one Honduras Red Cross vehicle was used to transport tear gas and arms to the barricades along the southern route. This has had the effect of undermining the trust local people have in the aid organizations generally and the Red Cross specifically. Although the Red Cross said they never sent a unit in that direction, they have not denounced the misappropriation of their symbol by government forces, nor have they made a formal complaint to appropriate authorities, according to the group. [Oscar Estrada report, 7/27/09; Via Ciudadana; Revistazo, 7/28/09; Feministas en Resistencia, 7/28/09]

4. Protests in Tegucigalpa, other cities meet with violent police, military response

Violent repression exploded on July 30 in the El Durazno section of Tegucigalpa, a day that union leader and National Front Against the Coup organizer Juan Barahona called “the fiercest repression we have experienced to date.” Many nonviolent protesters and bystanders were beaten, including independent presidential candidate Carlos Reyes, whose arm was broken, MISF associate producer Oscar Estrada, whose camera was destroyed and confiscated along with his footage and cell phone, and president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CODEH) Andrés Pavón. CODEH released a full account of their experience on the streets, reporting that disproportionate amounts of police and military forces were on hand, stopping buses full of people headed to El Durazno and briefly hijacking them, with helicopter support, to locations far from the protests. Some of these busloads were detained.

The protesters on hand were tear-gassed and beaten, seemingly at random. When one man who had stopped to take pictures was chased into his office, Pavón tried to intervene, stating his credentials. The police officer threatened him, calling human rights worthless and attempting to hit him with his baton. The account continued, “We bore witness to the disproportionate and beastly nature of the aggression. They were detaining the protesters, marching them down the street, single file, which recalled [a scene from] the Jewish ghettos.”

After being loaded onto trucks, the protesters were taken to the police’s Fourth Precinct or the Army’s Seventh Regional Command, where they joined over 100 detainees. By CODEH’s count, at least 16 people were severely wounded, and one, Roger Abrahán Vallejo, killed by gunshot. (See top story.) Reports from Comayagua city yielded similar stories, with at least 100 detained, over 20 severely wounded, and gas canisters being thrown inside the cells. Similar reports from Copán city emerged from protests there the following day. The New York Times also reported clashes in at least four cities. [NY Times, 7/31/09; TeleSur, 7/30/09; (Editor’s note: COFADEH reports will be posted to mayispeekfreely.org soon]

5. Human rights NGOs take action on behalf of detainees, at-risk citizens

In its legal capacity, CODEH made claims of habeas corpus for people detained in Tegucigalpa, Comayagua and Copán July 30 (see above story), only to be frustrated by judges who arrived after the detainees had been released without any intake or discharge records on file, leaving no evidence of the witnessed illegal detentions. CODEH has made four formal reports of human rights abuses to date, calling out numerous members of the de facto government for their roles in the events since June 28, including the previously reported state of exception decree, domestic media repression, and treatment of foreign diplomats.

According to an interview earlier in the month with Reina Rivera, former director of the Center for Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights, the military and the police are working in very close coordination, with the latter appearing to take orders from the former rather than checking its power in-country. She said that reports of disappearances are currently being verified, and that claims of forced military conscription, reported by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and others, have been followed by reports that these are now “voluntary,” due to pressure from NGOs.

On July 24, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expanded its list of people granted precautionary measures “in order to safeguard the life and personal integrity of persons in Honduras, who, according to information received, are at risk.” The expanded list names scores of people, including journalists, union leaders, leaders of local NGOs and former government officials. The commission has also requested information on specific claims of murders, beatings, death threats, press repression and other forms of abuse. [MDZ Online, 7/11/09; Revistazo; Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Precautionary Measures 2009]

6. U.S. State Dept. maintains guardedly pro-Zelaya stance

On July 27, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly restated the official U.S. stance on Honduras, saying, “We want the restoration of democratic order. And that includes the return by mutual agreement of the democratically elected president, and that’s President [Manuel] Zelaya.” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been more guarded in her assessment, omitting the last sentence regarding the return of Zelaya, saying, as she did on July 7, “We hope at the end of this mediation there will be a return of democratic constitutional order that is agreed to by all concerned. The exact nature of that, the specifics of it, we will leave to the parties themselves.”

Despite having generally expressed a position against the interim government, the State Department has not legally declared the Zelaya’s removal a coup d’etat, a position that Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley restated plainly in a July 20 briefing. Although the Obama administration and State Department have used the word “coup,” it hasn’t legally been declared such; clauses in the Foreign Assistance Act and Millennium Challenge Accounts call for the immediate termination of the flow of aid to a country in which a coup has “legally” taken place. At stake are $43.2 million in foreign aid slated for Honduras in 2009, including Millennium Challenge compact monies. There is $130 million left to be disbursed to Honduras under the Millennium Challenge through 2010. Over $20 million in military and police assistance and other aid programs have been suspended thus far, and $11 million in Millennium Challenge monies have yet to be authorized.

The argument for not cutting off aid has a humanitarian dimension—Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, with the most extreme inequality in wealth distribution. Cutting off aid would mainly affect the roughly 5.2 million people living under the poverty line, and not necessarily those pushing for the coup. Those who favor a tougher stance echo the words of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who said in a July 15 Miami Herald op-ed, “If those who overthrew Zelaya remain intransigent, we must look at additional cuts, without harming the poor more than Honduran politicians already have. In addition, we should consider pursuing punitive measures—including suspending travel visas—for anyone involved in suppressing the Honduran people.”

Spokesperson Kelly also stressed the department’s desire to have both parties adhere to the mediation talks headed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. On July 28, the United States applied more pressure on the de facto government by revoking diplomatic visas for four of its officials: Tomas Arita Valle, the Supreme Court justice who signed the order for Zelaya’s arrest; José Alfredo Saavedra, president of the Honduran Congress; human rights ombudsman Ramon Custodio; and Adolfo Lionel Sevilla, defense minister in the interim government. In a briefing that day, Kelly added that the State Department would further support the Zelaya government in this matter. “Once they submit the proper notification of termination on [Embassy diplomats and staff who support the de facto regime], the United States will take steps to terminate their status,” he said. [Miami Herald, 7/15; U.S. State Dept., 7/27/09; U.S. State Dept., 7/28/09; Reuters, 7/28; Business Week, 7/29]

7. U.S. Congress divided on Honduras

Meanwhile, in Congress, two starkly different resolutions on Honduras are competing for support. H. Res. 630—which Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., introduced July 10—”condemns the June 28 coup d’etat in Honduras and refuses to recognize the de facto Micheletti government installed by that coup d’etat.” It also specifically calls for Manuel Zelaya to be reinstated and for the Obama administration to suspend any non-humanitarian aid, which it has not done to the full extent possible. Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, a co-signer of 630, has been circulating a letter addressed to President Barack Obama that cites human rights abuses and urges the United States to take further action against the de facto government, including a suspension of non-humanitarian aid and a freeze on bank accounts and assets of individuals involved in the coup. Grijalva said such actions would have no adverse effect on the people of Honduras, but would force the de facto government to “abandon its uncompromising stance.”

On the other hand, H. Res. 619, put forth July 8 by Rep. Connie Mack, R.-Fla., “condemns Mr. Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales for his unconstitutional and illegal attempts to alter the Constitution of Honduras,” and calls the actions of June 28 legal and constitutional. Mack, who, along with his Republican colleague Rep. Brian Bilbray of California, returned from a July 25-26 weekend trip to the country, said Zelaya “is playing a game here and [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez is pulling the strings.”

The bill supporters are currently engaged in a race for broader support, as 630 currently has 44 co-signers—mostly a liberal coalition of minorities and their supporters—while 619 has 41 co-signers—conservative Cuban exiles and their allies. [The Hill, 7/28/09; Huffington Post, 7/28/09; Library of Congress, H. Res. 619; Library of Congress, H. Res. 630; The Hill, 7/28]

8. Honduran Congress members “deliberately kept out of legislative session” that ousted Zelaya

A growing number of Honduran congressional deputies are speaking out against the coup and affirming that they did not participate in the June 28 vote—initially reported as nearly unanimous—to remove President Manuel Zelaya from office and instate Roberto Micheletti, the congressional president, in his stead. In a July 26 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a group of five representatives, including Copán deputy Elvia Valle, wrote, “We and other members of Congress were deliberately kept out of the legislative session which ousted President Zelaya. We were first informed that there would be no session that day, and a small group of us was notified that a session would be taking place at the very last minute, with full knowledge that we were then at great distances from the capital city.” Honduran Ambassador to the U.S. Enrique Reina and Armando Sarmiento, former Director of the Honduran Tax and Customs Bureau, told MISF at least 26 deputies were not present for the vote, while another who was present did not provide a “yes” vote but was counted as such.

Those 27 representatives signed their names to a follow-up letter to the U.S. Congress on Aug. 3, denouncing the dismissal of Zelaya, the denial of due process to Zelaya, the prevention of their participation in the vote, and the use of “progressive and systematic” repression and intimidation tactics against deputies speaking out against the coup. Comprising 20 Liberal Party members, five from the Democratic Union Party, and two from the Christian Democracy Party, the group noted that they “represent a broad slice of the political spectrum in Honduras—from former close allies of Roberto Micheletti, the de facto head of state, to strong supporters of Preseident Zelaya’s party and members of other political parties.” The group wrote in its July 26 letter, “In our country the coup not only turned back time several decades, to an era when it was common practice for the military to overthrow presidents, but it also sent us back to a time when civil liberties were systematically violated in the name of national security.” [MISF interview with Ambassador Enrique Reina and Armando Sarmiento; Honduran deputies’ July 26 letter to Clinton and Aug. 3 letter to U.S. Congress (Editor’s note: images of letters will be added to mayispeakfreely.org soon)]

9. Excerpt of July 21 letter from Manuel Zelaya to Barack Obama

“… I call upon the Honorable President Barack Obama to take concrete action aimed at restoring the constitutional order of the Republic of Honduras and ending the violations of human rights and the bloody repression of the people who are in the streets demanding justice by DECLARING the consequent state of emergency, prohibiting bank transactions and canceling the visas of the conspirators and those directly responsible for my absuction and the interruption of constitutional order in my country, designating them as “Specially Designated Persons” and adding them to the Executive Order 13224 of the United States of America, the following individuals: The High Command of the Armed Forces of Honduras presided over by Division General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and composed of Brigadier General Miguel Angel Garcia Padget, in his rank of General Commander of the Army, Commander General of the Navy, Rear Admiral Juan Pablo Rodriguez R., an Brigadier General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, Commander General of the Airforce; the directorate of the National Congress of Honduras presided over by Roberto Micheletti Bain, and composed of Jose Alfredo Saavedra, Toribio Aquilera, Ramon Velazquez Nassar, Marcia Facusse de Villeda, Rolando Dubon Bueso and Antonio Rivera Callejas; Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubi, and Public Prosecutor Rosa America Miranda.” [Translation by Embassy of Honduras, Washington, D.C.; text provided to MISF by Honduran Ambassador Eduardo Enrique Reina]

10. Human rights ombudsman Ramón Custodio censured by international human rights advocates

A group of Latin American, North American and European human rights lawyers, in a July 1 letter to the Federation of Iberoamerican Ombudsmen (FIO), denounced Honduran Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio for endorsing the coup and failing to defend human rights in the country. Custodio is the Honduran representative to the FIO. The letter called for an investigation into Custodio’s actions and that he be urged to “fulfill his constitutional duty to defend and protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law because, with his actions and omissions, he has discredited and delegitimized the institutional figure of the ombudsman and the Iberoamerican Federation of Ombudsmen.”

On July 27, Nicaraguan human rights prosecutor and FIO President Omar Cabezas announced the opening of an office in Nicaragua to receive complaints of human rights violations by the de facto government in Honduras. He said the office was needed because Custodio “is supporting the coup government and is not assuming his duties.” (La Opinión reported Aug. 3 that Custodio had been expelled from the FIO, while La Journada reported that he had been expelled from the International Federation of Human Rights; however, the claims are in question, as neither organization appears to have made public statements to that effect.)

An open letter to Custodio, dated July 26, from former friend and colleague Knut Rauchfuss of the NGO Justice is Health, based in Bochum, Germany, went further in explaining why Custodio’s international peers—and many Honduras human rights figures—were so disappointed with him. “You are no longer a fighter for human rights,” Rauchfuss wrote, “but rather an accomplice to lies and brutality, an accomplice to military men and assasins. Each day, another [news] article appears, where my old friend Ramón Custodio presents himself as custodian to the Honduran ruling class and its military coup, articles in which you present yourself publicly exonerating soldiers who killed protesters, and letters in which you deny that political prisoners exist and in which you exonerate, too, the torturer Billy Joya. Where is the Ramón Custodio who agreed with the principles of justice and humanity? Where is the Ramón who respected human dignity?” [Editor’s note: Joya, a former Honduran Army captain, has assumed the role of security adviser in Micheletti’s cabinet. Joya is accused of the illegal detention, torture and murder of civilians in the 1980s, when he was a commanding officer in the military intelligence Batallion 3-16.]

Custodio is also one of the officials whose U.S. visa was revoked. (See story above.) In response to U.S. State Department’s action he said, “I prefer to die with dignity in Honduras before being subjected to blackmail and coercion.” During the 1980s, as president of the NGO Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras, Custodio actively spoke out against illegal detentions, disappearances and the government’s failure to abide by its own constitutional guarantees, and he advocated on behalf of victims and their families. [Rauchfuss letter via Listas RDS-HN, 7/27/09; La Prensa, 7/30/09]

11. San José Accord still on table, but conflicts loom large

Talks between the two Honduran governments—that of ousted President Manuel Zelaya and of de facto President Roberto Michelleti—as mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, have taken a tumultuous course over the past few weeks, breaking off several times before reaching a near agreement late last week. The latest proposal, dubbed the San José Accord for the Costa Rican city by that same name, consists of 12 points:

(1) power sharing under a unity government, accepting the recently passed general budget; (2) a general amnesty for political offenses regarding the conflict, and general delay of any lawsuits extending six months; (3) renunciation of a poll or any other act regarding a Constitutional Assembly; (4) moving up elections by a month to Oct. 29; agreeing to international monitoring from now until transfer of power in January; (5) affirming neutrality of armed forces and requesting their assistance with electoral monitoring; (6) return of powers of state to their pre-June 28 status, with Zelaya as president; (7) establishing a verification commission, presided over by the Organization of American States, to make sure the accord is followed, as well as a truth commission, led by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights to clarify the deeds that occurred before and after June 28; (8) normalization of status between Honduras and the international community; (9) accord effective at the moment of signing; (10) differences in interpretation will be taken up by the verification commission; (11) setting forth a calendar for all steps to take place; (12) commitment to execute accord in good faith.

On July 25, the Honduran military issued a statement that it supported this plan and would not stand in the way of Zelaya entering the country with the accord in place. This move seemed to provide an opening for Micheletti to consider it, which he indeed did signal in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on July 27. On July 30, the New York Times reported unnamed officials as saying that Michelleti had called President Arias the previous day to express his support for the San Jose Accord. There was even movement in the Honduran Congress to study the proposal with the expectation of a quick resolution. Zelaya has already agreed to the accord. In July 29 broadcast on San Pedro Sula TV station, he said, “To avoid going against the Arias plan, we will change strategy [on Constitutional reform], but reform is still coming.”

On July 31, however, Michelleti dashed any glimmer of hope by issuing a statement, which said, in part, “We respect many of the points of the agreement but we do not accept some of them like the return of Mr. Zelaya. We don’t accept it in this country under any circumstance. If he wants to come back he can, but only if he faces trial.” A high-ranking diplomatic mission is slated to travel to Honduras in an effort to persuade the interim government to accept all 12 points of the plan.

The diplomatic drama took place against the backdrop of developments on the ground, which might have complicated negotiations. On July 24, Zelaya, along with a throng of supporters gathered at the Nicaraguan border, briefly crossed over into Honduras soil in defiance of the military, which had threatened his arrest if he did so. The event, which drew thousands of supporters defying curfews and making their way through the jungle, drew the ire of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called the move “reckless.” Many Zelaya supporters still remain just over the border in Nicaragua in camps, where Zelaya is reportedly preparing a “popular militia” to guard him when he returns to the country for good.

Meanwhile, the Honduran Public Ministry has filed charges against Zelaya and his former minister of the presidency, Enrique Flores Lanza, for the falsification of documents in connection with an investigation of illegal use of funds for publicity spending, presumably connected to the “cuarta urna” opinion poll to have been conducted on June 28. The charges include a request for an arrest warrant for the deposed president. [NY Times, 7/19/09; NY Times, 7/23/09; NY Times, 7/25/09; NY Times, 7/26/09; Wall St. Journal, 7/27/09; Huffington Post, 7/27/09; NY Times, 7/27/09; Bloomberg, 7/29/09; Proceso Digital, 7/30/09; Proceso Digital, 7/30/09; NY Times, 7/30/09; La Tribuna, 7/30/09; NY Times, 7/31/09; Washington Post, 7/31/09; AFP, 8/1/09]

12. Elite Honduran business interests flex behind-the-scenes power in de facto government

A recent article in The American Prospect revealed that Lanny Davis, chief U.S. lobbyist and public-relations strategist for the pro-coup forces in Honduras, is being paid by members of the Honduras chapter of the Business Council of Latin America (CEAL), including his main contacts, Camilo Atala and Jorge Canahuati. Atala and Canahuati are two of eight extremely powerful families in Honduras, who together control much of the country’s media outlets and other business interests. According to the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras, CEAL is a continuation of the same core group of business, political and military interests that during the 1980s comprised the Alliance for Progress and Development of Honduras, an anti-Communist group closely tied to the military that COFADEH and other human rights organizations consider a principal actor behind the infamous military intelligence Battalion 3-16 of that era, believed to have functioned as a death squad.

In a July 30 New York Times article revealing de facto President Roberto Michelleti’s brief flirtation with accepting the San José Accord, which would allow the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, unnamed sources were quoted as saying that Michelleti faced stiff opposition from these elite business interests in welcoming Zelaya back to the country. Michelleti issued a statement the following day unequivocally stating that his government was no longer considering any resolution that would bring Zelaya back, citing internal resources and “private companies” who had agreed to “freeze prices on the basic basket of goods … for as long as is necessary,” as a firewall against international isolation and pressure to do otherwise.

Those private companies do not include some major apparel manufacturers with interests in the country, including Nike, the Adidas Group, The Gap and Knight’s Apparel, who on July 28 issued a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for a restoration of democracy in Honduras. [American Prospect, 7/22/09; Nike, 7/27/09; All Headline News, 7/28/09; NY Times, 7/30/09; NY Times, 7/31/09]

13. “Cuarta urna” proposals had raised hopes among Honduras’ marginalized communities

The Honduran military recently made available on its Web site an extensive pdf document, which—in the midst of 156 pages listing pre-coup timelines, justifications for military and court actions to remove Manuel Zelaya from power, and miscellaneous legal documents—included a publicity flyer, apparently from the campaign to rally support for Zelaya’s “cuarta urna” opinion poll that was slated to have taken place on June 28. With no mention of a call to extend presidential term limits, the flier included a list of proposed changes the Zelaya government had hoped to introduce in the event a constitutional assembly was called to order. Among the 10 points listed were the promotion women’s rights, “guarantees of a multicultural and pluri-ethnic society,” and political reforms that would have allowed for more minority representation in government. Ironically—since a key criticism of the process was the perception of Zelaya’s desire to hold on to power—one of the points allowed for midterm votes of confidence for local, congressional and presidential representatives.

Beyond coup d’etat or rule of law, Zelaya or Michelleti, the promise of constitutional reform reportedly struck a chord with many disempowered communities, especially the Garifuna population, an ethnic subgroup descended from Amerindian and African people, of which there are roughly 400,000 in Honduras. Garifuna community activist Alfredo López told the Miami Herald, “We have no political visibility in this country and that makes us extremely vulnerable. The constitutional assembly would have given us a chance to change that.” For some Garifuna, Zelaya’s ouster meant dashed hopes, which is why they said they were marching not necessarily in support of Zelaya, but for a change in the status quo. According to Carlos Mauricio Palacios, a historian who has worked with indigenous communities, “[The constitutional assembly] was important, not just for the Garifunas, but all the minority communities. This was a chance to secure rights that have long been denied to them.'” [Documento Auditoría Jurídico Militar de las FFAA Sobre Sucesión Presidencial en Honduras, PDF; Honduras Coup 2009, 7/27/09; Miami Herald, 7/22/09]

14. Kidnapped journalist found dead

On July 8, the body of reporter Bernardo Rivera was found buried on a mountainside in the Copán region. Rivera, a former congressional deputy, was kidnapped on March 14 and apparently died in an escape attempt sometime in April. The NGO Reporters Without Borders issued a statement condemning the events, adding that the Honduran government had taken too long in coming to grips with the seriousness of the crime wave sweeping the country. [La Tribuna, 7/13/09; La Tribuna, 7/13/09; previous story: HNR, 5/1-31/09]

15. Other news in brief

Shortly after the events of June 28, the Honduran Foreign Ministry ordered all its diplomats home, and the ambassador to the United States, Roberto Flores Bermudez, complied, saying “This is not a coup d’etat, but rather a process in which a judicial order has been carried out.” Eduardo Enrique Reina, a former vice minister of foreign relations and private secretary to Honduras’s ousted president, presented himself on July 16 as Zelaya’s ambassador to the country. [Miami Herald, 7/3/09; The Hill, 7/16/09] Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, minister of culture under the Zelaya administration who fled to Mexico after hiding in Honduras for seven days following the coup, and Enrique Reina, the new ambassador to the United States, reported that some ministers’ personal bank accounts and credit cards were frozen for more than a week following the coup. [MISF interviews with Fasquelle and Reina]

For background information on the June 28 coup, along with links to original Honduran government documents, read our Backgrounder: Making Sense of the Honduran Coup.

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[en] Photo-Essay by James Rodriguez: Tragedy in Honduras – Army Shoots and Kills Protesters

Written by James Rodriguez
Monday, 06 July 2009
Source: MiMundo.org
On the day when ousted President Manuel Zelaya was slated to return, thousands of supporters gathered at the Pedagogica University in order to march towards Toncontin Airport. Meanwhile, at the airport, some gathered early to await Mel’s arrival despite the suffocating presence of Honduran security forces.

It is estimated that at least 100,000 people marched towards Toncontin Airport to welcome “Mel”.

Even though the security forces held several check points to stop the march, the Police and Army decided to allow the march’s arrival to Toncontin. Until then, both sides had behaved remarkably respectful and peaceful.

The protesters even applauded the Police’s decision to let them through.

Nevertheless, a few minutes later, on the far end of the landing strip, tensions brewed out of control. When protesters began trespassing the barbed-wire fence, the army responded by shooting tear gas and live rounds. One person was killed on the scene, dozens were injured, and overnight, at least three other people died in local hospitals.

“The armed forces have fired live rounds against unarmed civilians. For over five hours, the protesters behaved respectfully of the army and police. There had been no confrontations. No one had sticks or guns. The march’s organizers had even decommissioned stones from a few protesters. But the army shot as us just like that, in cold blood. There was no need to shoot! Yes, some had started to cut and remove the barbed-wire fence [so as to enter the landing strip], this cannot be denied. But it was not necessary to shoot civilians with live rounds. Once again, so that the people of Honduras will remain united: the blood of a martyr is the seed for many Hondurans who will stand up and remain firm against such de facto government – this government of delinquents. We are only following Article 3rd of our Constitution: ‘Nobody should obey a Government which has reached power by means of usurpation.’”
-Cesar Omar Silva, television journalist for State-owned Channel 8.

Manuel Zelaya’s airplane flew over Toncontin airport a couple of times before aborting landing attempts and headed for Managua, Nicaragua. The plane was not given permission to land as military personnel and vehicles blocked the runway. His plans for a return to Honduras are not yet known at this time.


BBC News has published the best video so far of the Army’s repression against the protesters. The army’s shooting can be clearly seen:

Versión en español aquí.

This photo-essay was completed with the contribution of A. J. Bunch C.


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